11 September 2020
In 2016 I spent a very happy year based in the BIPC as the Leverhulme Trust’s Writer in Residence. During that time, I wrote two business books, developed two mini pop-up exhibitions and ran multiple workshops, which focused on authors being more entrepreneurial and entrepreneurs telling their stories better. Since then, I run monthly workshops at the British Library, still focusing on those two strands. I spent 15 years in business myself before becoming a full-time self-published author. I mainly focused on business innovation and mentoring entrepreneurs, so when I became an author, that entrepreneurial and creative spirit stuck with me! Since then I’ve written and self-published 13 books and completed a Creative Writing PhD.
During my workshops, part of the session is me talking, plus some hands-on exercises. And, lots of time for questions, so that I can answer specific queries. I try to give a lot of useful resources and links that you can go away and explore, to really expand your knowledge and develop your working practice. It’s my aim that coming to one of my workshops will keep you busy afterwards for several months! Many of my attendees write back to me later on to let me know how they are doing and their progress is hugely satisfying to me.
I really enjoy welcoming both authors and entrepreneurs to the BIPC workshops and webinars. Most of my workshops focus on a blend of creativity/storytelling and entrepreneurial/business skills. If you’re an author, these sessions will help you earn a living. New additions to the programme are sessions on applying for grants and productivity for authors, both of which can really make a difference to building a successful writing career. Meanwhile entrepreneurs can benefit from writing non-fiction if they want to develop a book as a communication tool for their business. This autumn/winter I will also be running my most popular session, on self-publishing, which benefits both authors and entrepreneurs wanting to write a book, as well as a session on blogging for beginners, which again benefits both groups. Creativity + Business = a winning formula!
03 February 2020
Many unseen tasks are involved in bringing a great piece of content to the public and one of those is the critical job of proofreading. One Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni business, The Proofreading Company, does just that and more, offering language services including editing, proofreading, translation and copywriting.
Co-founders Peter and Rosie wanted to start the business due to their love of storytelling and working with language. Rosie explains, “The question was: how do we turn our passion into a vocation? Both Peter and I studied languages together at Oxford University and then went into interpreting and publishing respectively, but after a while we decided to join forces and start The Proofreading Company. In the proofreading world, we feel you tend to get either freelancers working solo or companies that offer a rather impersonal service, where work is churned out without much care. We wanted to fill that gap: to create a business that has significant capacity while still being friendly, caring and customer-focused.”
Each week is different for the company, with many different jobs, such as helping international organisations publish error-free, well-written reports, writing copy that reflects a company’s brand and purpose, translating a French-language academic paper into English so that it can be submitted to a British or US journal and even reworking lyrics for rock songs!
The landscape of proofreading has seen changes in recent years. “Almost all of our work is now digital rather than on paper. Thinking back to the time of proofreading symbols to mark up a printed document makes me a little nostalgic, but there’s no doubt that working on a computer saves a lot of time and trees,” Rosie explains. And despite the move towards short forms of communication–like social media and text messages–people still care about carefully crafting their writing: “Our customers care about correct spelling and consistency, because they want to convey their ideas clearly. They don’t want their reader to be distracted by inconsistencies or stuck trying to work out what a sentence is trying to say. There are different contexts in which we write; in a text message or on social media, people might not mind bending grammar rules, but they still want their professional documents to be absolutely perfect.”
There is the question of what’s next for the future of proofreading; will machines replace human beings? Rosie thinks it’s a bit more complex than it first might seem. “So many subtleties and layers come into play when we edit or translate a piece of writing. We bring our language and grammar expertise, but also the cultural knowledge, emotional sensitivities and common sense that are (so far) unique to human beings. There are infinite ways in which we can use language. The quirks of a writer are often what make their style unique. How would a computer deal with the brilliant first sentence of Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom!, which is composed of 1,288 words?”
The longevity of proofreading confirms Rosie’s belief it’s here to stay. “Last year I visited the British Library’s exhibition on writing, which featured a Chinese scroll from 672 AD where a list of proofreaders is included on the document. Proofreading existed more than 2,000 years ago, and probably long before! We’re open-minded about AI possibilities, but computers have a long way to go to compete with human beings when it comes to language. From where we’re standing, the future of language services lies in human linguists whose work is enhanced by clever machines.”
With humans continuing to lead the way, The Proofreading Company is looking to rebrand to reflect the wider scope of services it offers – so watch this space.
If you have ambitions to grow and scale-up like The Proofreading Company, find out more about our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.
07 June 2019
I don’t know about you, but since the growth in our dependency on computers of all shapes and sizes my handwriting has certainly deteriorated. Everything I was taught at primary school has gone out the window in favour of Calibri 18 and the ease of using Word 2010.
I never really gave it a thought until I visited the British Library’s Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition and realised that we are (in my opinion) in danger of losing an art that dates back over 5,000 years.
The Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition is a fascinating look at the origins of writing taking us on a journey through time from ancient wax tablets through to modern day computer screens. A look around the exhibition was enough to send me back to the Business & IP Centre to see which patents I could find relating to some of the topics.
If you ask most people about writing and the invention of writing implements they will probably say the most memorable was the invention of the Biro.
The first ball point pen (to give it its correct name) was invented in 1938 by Laszlo Josef Biro a Hungarian journalist. However, it wasn’t called a ball point pen initially, instead Biro’s British patent GB498997 had the title ‘Improved fountain pen’. It is said that Biro had noticed how newspaper ink dried rapidly leaving the newspapers smudge free and this gave him the idea to invent a writing implement that used the same kind of ink. However, as this ink was thicker than normal it wouldn’t flow freely down the nib of a traditional fountain pen and so Biro had to devise a new way to transfer the ink from the reservoir to the paper. He did this by adding a tiny ball bearing to the tip of his pen and found that, as the pen moved over the paper, the ball bearing rotated transferring the ink as it went. Success!
Biro’s version of a ball point pen wasn’t the first though. This honour goes to an American inventor named John J Loud. Loud invented a ball point pen which he stated in his US patent US392046 (issued October 30 1888) was “an improved reservoir or fountain pen especially useful among other purposes for marking on rough surfaces such as wood, coarse wrappings and other articles where an ordinary pen could not be used.” Unfortunately for Loud his invention does not seem to have been as commercially successful as Biro’s whose invention wasn’t developed until 20 years after Loud’s death in 1916.
BiC Crystal is a name we are probably all familiar with as it is reputed to be the best selling ball point in the world. However, it’s not their ball point pen which is of interest, rather their patent application GB2218381A for a ‘Safety cap for a ball point pen’. They withdrew the application before grant, but still used the safety caps on all their ball point pens with the aim of preventing people choking on the caps should they make the mistake of swallowing one.
And what about pencils?
Pencils in some form have been around since the ancient Romans began using thin metal rods to make marks on papyrus. Some of these early styluses were made from lead which is where the name ‘lead pencil’ comes from, even though pencils today are made of graphite, graphite and clay or even plastic polymer. Some pencils were originally wrapped in string or twine, but later pencil cores were encased in hollowed out wood.
Sampson Mordan was the first inventor to patent a version of the mechanical pencil with his patent GB4742 of 1822. This was a patent for a refillable mechanical pencil and Mordan’s company S.Mordan and Co, continued to manufacture mechanical pencils until the factory was destroyed during the Second World War.
One of my favourite inventions relating to writing is Hall’s Diplometer. Patented by George F Hall in 1846, with patent number GB11060 of 1846, the Diplometer was a writing instrument which allowed pawnbrokers and the like to write out three identical tickets at the same time. I remember seeing one of these being used in a pawnbrokers when I was a child. One of the earliest forms of copying machines I have been able to find.
All of the patent documents mentioned above were found using the British Library’s Business & IP Centre collection of historic intellectual property. The collection is a great resource that can be used to trace your ancestor’s inventions or to check whether or not the idea you have for a new innovation has ever been done before. The staff in the Centre will be more than happy to guide you through your search.
A final highlight from the exhibition, Hammonds Typewriter US224088 is only one of the patents obtained by James Hammond for his ‘Typewriting Machine’. The machine itself is a thing of beauty, although I am not sure how one would comfortably use it!
Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert at the Business & IP Centre London
Maria has worked in the field of intellectual property since she joined the British Library in January 1993. She is currently the British Library Business & IP Centre’s Intellectual Property Expert, where she delivers 1-2-1 business and IP advice clinics, as well as intellectual property workshops and webinars on regular basis.
26 March 2019
Our next big exhibition here at the British Library is Writing: Making Your Mark from 26 April to 27 August. It will follow the remarkable evolution of writing from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs carved in stone and early printed text such as William Caxton’s edition of The Canterbury Tales, to the art of note-taking by some of history’s greatest minds, and onwards to the digital communication tools we use today.
Which brings us very neatly to blogging. Blogging continues to be one of the most important ways of marketing your business. And according to online marketing experts HubSpot:
With all the hype around video content, it’s tempting to think that blogging is over. But ... Your strategy should still involve blogging as usual. Because blogging is, and will remain, an essential game plan to reach your audience.
- You have a 434% higher chance of being ranked highly on search engines if you feature a blog as part of your website (Tech Client).
- Businesses using blogs as part of their content marketing mix get 67% more leads than those who don’t (Hubspot).
I have been blogging for over ten years on behalf of the Business & IP Centre here at the British Library, and have learnt from experience its enormous power.
- To build trust –
Today customers want to deal with real people vs anonymous business. This is your competitive advantage as a startup, and your blog will communicate your personal passion.
- To build an audience –
You can start to tell your story even before your business goes live. You might even attract some pre-launch orders.
- Increase your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) without risk –
Google loves blogs, but hates cheaters, so keep away from search engine optimisers with claims of ‘magical’ abilities.
- Drive more traffic to your website –
- Be seen as an expert in your field –
You will have the knowledge and experience of your industry to provide insightful, quality content on a regular basis.
- Reach a wider market –
You will share your blog content via your social media channels, so you might even get to go viral.
For those of you who are not convinced here is some hard evidence of the power of blogging. In 2011 I wrote a post about the British Standard for a cup of tea (BS 6008 in case you are interested). Eight years later and this post still comes up as number one on a Google search...
Even if you are promoting what might appear to be dry or boring topic, a tangential blog post can be the an ideal marketing tool.
So, for instance, if you want to promote an "Award-Winning Pet Insurance" business, why not write a review of the British Library Cats on the Page exhibition, which ended in March, on your Animal Friends blog.
Neil Infield, Business & IP Centre Manager at The British Library
Neil is a manager in the Business & IP Centre at the British Library, where he leads a team of business and intellectual property reference specialists. The Centre provides information and advice to inventors, business start-ups and entrepreneurs.
Neil is a SFEDI accredited business advisor, and runs regular advice clinics. He has also delivered a range of workshops including What next for my business idea, and Introducing social media for small business.
Prior to joining the British Library Neil spent 16 years working in the City of London for an investment firm, managing their business information services. He has spoken widely on innovation in business information. He blogs at www.inoutfield.com, and tweets at @ninfield.
He has been active in SLA Europe for nearly 20 years, including President in 2004, and being made a Fellow in 2006. In 2011 he became a Fellow of The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA).